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How much did things cost in 1952, the year the Queen took the throne?

Updated 05 December 2022

4min read

Kate Morgan
Staff Writer

When the Queen first took to the throne in 1952, life was very different.

As we approach the 70th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation, we look back at what life was like in 1952 and ask, what were Brits spending their money on and how much did things cost?

How much did things cost in 1952, when the Queen was coronated?

What were we spending our money on in 1952? 

Since taking up the throne, Queen Elizabeth II has met 14 prime ministers and 13 different US presidents, seen the UK join and leave the EU, and watched technology and the internet revolutionise the world.

It’s fair to say that the longest-serving monarch in British history has seen the world change a lot in her time. So as we approach the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, we take a look back at what life was like in 1952, and what we would have been spending our money on.  

What was life like in the 1950s?  

Much unlike the ultra-fast, techy world we live in today, 1950s Britain was not a happy place.

Almost all of Britain’s biggest cities had been heavily bombed during the Blitz, with some, such as Coventry, being effectively razed to the ground. People were poor, many families had been left without loved ones, and with the rationing of some goods only ending in 1954, the early 50s were a difficult time for many people.

But as the decade wore on, things started to change. People started earning more money, many more families were given homes and slowly but surely, your shillings and pence started being worth a little bit more.  

How much did a house cost? 

The 1950s saw the government start mass-producing cheap houses for the people.

In 1952, the average cost of a house was around £1,891, or less than £40,000 in today’s money. Although the prices had increased a little by the end of the 1950s, houses were clearly much more affordable back then than they are today.

With the average house price in the UK currently at £277,000, housing is today around seven times more expensive on average.  

In the early half of the decade, many people were living in small rented accommodation. But as the construction of new housing ramped up, there was a boom in homeownership, so by the end of the decade, many people owned their own homes.  

What were salaries like? 

People were a lot poorer in the 1950s and work was very different.

The early 1950s were taken up by the country still trying to recover from World War II.

Having spent so much money, the UK government was desperately trying to claw some of it back, so Brits had to live with high taxes for a long time. This meant that very few Brits had much disposable income in the early part of the decade. Eventually, average wages rose from around £5 to £9 by 1959. In comparison, average weekly earnings today are more than £500.  

What was the inflation rate in the 1950s? 

Feeling the squeeze? So were people during this time. Inflation stayed above 9 per cent in 1951 and 1952, before very quickly falling back to nearly 0 per cent by the end of the decade.

No wonder then that by the time 1960 rolled around, Brits were more than happy to splash their newfound cash.  

What was the level of poverty? 

While weekly earnings did grow in the 1950s, many more people were struggling in the early part of the decade.

Poverty is measured differently today than it was in the 1950s, so it’s difficult to accurately compare this – even many experts disagree on the statistics.

It’s generally believed that in the first half of the decade, poverty levels were high, and by the end of the decade, prices became more amenable and living standards started to rise. 

Today, the Commons Library measures relative poverty at around 16 per cent of the population. However, when you measure income levels after housing costs, the relative poverty number jumps to 22 per cent. While the UK may have changed a lot in 70 years, unfortunately, poverty remains a problem.  

What was life expectancy in the 1950s? 

Life expectancy has grown a lot since the 50s. A combination of poor housing, poor health and low incomes meant that people didn’t always have healthy lifestyles.

The average life expectancy in 1950 was 68, but thanks to technology, science and improved standards of food and health, life expectancy in the UK today is around 81. 

When did people retire? 

The retirement age for men in the UK has been 65 since the 1950s. However, the average age for men to leave the workforce in 1950 was 67, with women leaving the workforce at about 63.

As life expectancy has increased, so too has the retirement age. Employers no longer force their employees to retire at 65. Despite the rising retirement age, women are still retiring at the same average age, while men are now retiring at around 65.  

How much was a weekly shop? 

A lot of food in the 1950s was tinned, canned or instant. And, like a lot of other things, was a lot cheaper than today.

The UK used pounds, shillings, and pence in the 1950s, which by today’s standards is only a few pence. In 1951, a loaf of unwrapped bread cost today’s 61p, and a pint of milk would cost you 56p.  

How many banks were there in 1952? 

Before the banking boom of the 80s, banks were much smaller. There were over 10,000 banking branches in the UK in 1950, with the majority being run by the big names that we know today – or at least early versions of them.

Certainly in the 1950s, the high street branch and local banking outlet ruled the roost, whereas today, many banking branches are closing.  

How many people owned cars and television? 

The 1950s saw the start of consumerism. New inventions were slowly but surely becoming more affordable to the average household, but only a few were so lucky.

In the 50s, 80 per cent of households didn’t own a car but since then, that figure has dropped significantly. Today, more than half of households in the UK have car ownership. 

The same can be said for televisions. At the start of the decade, they were a luxury item, with only the 350,000 households owning a television. Of course, in this decade, about 27 million households have at least one television.  

So, the UK has changed a lot over the last 70 years. Some things have gone out of fashion, and everything has become more expensive. From homeownership to grocery prices, we’re left wondering what things will look like in another 70 years. 

About the author
Kate has written for leading publications and blue chip companies over the last 20 years.